P. H. (Philip Howard) Colomb.

Naval warfare, its ruling principles and practice historically treated online

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main portion v/as to have been formed from the Duke of Parma's
army, and was prepared to embark at Dunkirk, the Duke himself
being indeed the real commander of the expedition. But our Allies,
the Hollanders and Zealanders, took effective measures to prevent
any junction between the two wings of the Spanish force, by inter-
posing their own superior fleet. As Barchett puts it : —

The twenty-seventh of July the Spanish fleet came to an anchor before Calais, and
• Wynter to 'Walsingham, 1st August loSS. ^Slata Papers, Domestic, ecxiv., 7.


not far from them anchored the English Admiral, who, by the accession of the ships
under the Lord Seymour and Sir William Winter, had now a hundred and forty sail,
all stout ships, though the main stress of the engagement lay not upon more than
fifteen of them. The Spaniards were now very importunate with the Duke of Parma
to send out forty fly-boats to their assistance, for that otherwise, by the unwieldiness
of their ships, they could not engage the light and active vessels of the English. They
also desired him to use all speed in embarking his army, and be ready to take the first
opportunity, under their protection, of landing in England. But, besides that his flat-
bottomed boats were become leaky, and that he was not in other respects in that
readiness which had been concerted, he was prevented from complj-ing with these
demands by the ships of Holland and Zealand, which, under the command of Count
Justin of Nassau, continued to block up the harbours of Dunkirk and Newport, the only
ports from whence he could put to sea.*

Thus it is seen that even supposing there had been no encounters
between the English and Spanish ships, or supposing the EngUsh
had proved less superior than they were, still the great Armada was
a palpable failure. Mr, Laughton does very rightly in pressing the
point that in the collapse of the Armada there were no miracles,
nor any special interpositions of Providence by gales of wind or
otherwise. The case was simply that if Philip had been either
better advised, or, being well advised, had been less headstrong, he
would have known that not only was the task one most probably
beyond his powers, but that it was impossible that he could suc-
ceed as he went about it. And it may be further observed that if
Medina- Sidonia was not justified by the letter of his orders in pur-
suing the course which he did — and Mr. Laughton certainly seems
to show that this was so — the arrangement of his force was such
as to lead him to interpret the spirit of his orders in the way that
he did. If Burchett is correctly informed, the same idea seems to
have possessed Medina-Sidonia up to the moment of his final defeat
at sea — namely, that it was a possibility in naval strategy to pro-
ceed with a territorial attack over sea in presence of a hostile

This was the primary error of the King of Spain ; and the great
advantage of bringing the defeat of Medina-Sidonia and of Persano
together is that the parallelism of the cases so emphatically con-
firms the rule of strategy. Medina-Sidonia in 1588 fails to land a
man, except as a fugitive, on the territory selected for descent, just
as Persano does in 1866 ; and both suft"er the overwhelming defeat
of their fleets.

It should not have been possible for the King of Spain to regard
the English fleet as insignificant after the transactions at Cadiz in
the year before. Had it been ever so insignificant, it was necessary

♦ Burchett, p. 353.


to paralyse its action in some way before any descent on tlie terri-
tory it guarded could be attempted. Just in the same way, the
Italian Government, or Persano for them, might have been justified
in despising the Austrian force at Pola; but, however little its
strength might have been esteemed, it was an absolute necessity to
paralyse its action if the capture of the island of Lissa was to be
accomplished. If neither Medina-Sidonia nor Persano had naval
force enough for the double operation of paralysing the defending
naval force, and covering the landing at the same time, and yet
attempted to pursue the descent, they each courted the fate they
met, and fully deserved it.

In all cases of descent liable to be even watched by hostile fleets,
we shall meet failure unless the descending forces are divided into
two perfectly distinct parts ; one to paralyse the possibly interfer-
ing naval force, and the other to conduct the descent itself. But
Philip had a heavier task before him than Persano, inasmuch as
there were three distinct opposing fleets which must be paralysed,
and one of them, as lying between the two wings of the descending
force, which must be defeated. There was, as we have seen. Lord
Howard's fleet at Plymouth, Lord Henry Seymour's in the "narrow
seas," by the Straits of Dover, and Count Justin's, blockading
Dunkirk and Nieuport. Had Philip ever looked this matter in the
face ? Had he in any way prepared his naval forces for division
into the necessary four parts, each of sufficient strength — one to
mask Lord Howard, one to mask Lord Henry Seymour, a third to
defeat and then to mask Count Justin of Nassau, and a fourth to
conduct and cover the landing ? There is no sign anywhere that
ideas so obviously pressing found a place in his mind ; and if
Medina-Sidonia in any way represented the mind of his master,
there must have been a firm belief that in some way or other the
descent could proceed to success in the very face of three opposing

Persano had but the one fleet to paralyse, but he must have been
possessed with the same idea as Medina-Sidonia, that in some way
or other the appearance of the Austrian fleet would not interfere
with the regular conduct of the descent about to be undertaken on
the island of Lissa, nor in any way hinder its ultimate success.
But that an Admiral was found to act on such an idea, belief of its.
entrance into an Admiral's mind would be well-nigh impossible.

The failure, then, of the descent upon England in 1588, and
upon Lissa in 18G6, as well as the collapse of Napoleon's accom-
plished descent.upon Egypt, can all be set down to the one cause —


defiance of plain rules of naval strategy. If there was naval
force enough to [do it, division should have been made so as to
employ one part in paralysing possibly opponent fleets, and the
other in covering the descent. If there was not naval force
enough for this division, the expeditions ought never to have
started, for, short of miracle, they were bound to fail, as all such
must fail when conducted over a doubtfully commanded sea. I
have adverted in my fourth chapter to the commencement of these
descents and counter descents on outlying territories, which were
begun by Sir Eobert Holms against the Dutch possessions on the
coasts of Africa and America, and followed up on the other side by
De Euiter. I have also noticed the beginnings of those transfers
and re-transfers of the West India Islands in 1666-67, which
afterwards became so common between naval belligerents. I need
not further advert to these remote events, as more recent
examples of the same things are so numerous and so much more
capable of treatment from the philosophical standpoint.

But a few words as to certain expeditions to Ireland in James
11. 's interest in 1689-90 and 1691 may be useful, as they form
examples of the class of descents which I have spoken of in the
previous chapter as not involving the element of time, and
depending for their success on the reception which is given to
them in the country itself. In such expeditions the navy is not
concerned, except as convoy. There is no landing to be covered,
nor footing to be made good and held. It is therefore legitimate
to proceed by the method of tiasion, though it is more consistent
with promise of success that a possibly intercepting naval force
should be watched and masked, or at least occupied, and that only
Q small convoying force should be directly employed in protecting
the transports.

In 1689 the English naval forces were disorganized, and beside
the practical inefficiency of the ships for obtaining and keeping any
adequate command of the sea, the necessary preparations were all
in arrear, so that Admiral Herbert never had any hopes of inter-
fering, nor ever made any attempt to interfere with the landing
of James, which took place at Kinsale on the 12th March. When
Herbert received the news, he was only in course of getting his
fleet together, and all his hopes only extended to a possible inter-
ception of the French convoy on its return. Even when he sailed
for the westward, it was with but a portion of his fleet, and in the
expectation that the rest of it might join him.

Here, then, we have a clear case of landing od a friendly coast,



in •which the naval work was done when the military forces were
landed ; and where therefore the question of the command of the
sea did not arise, except during the passage over. But even here,
the necessity for recruitment and supply followed.^

Herbert arrived off Cork on the 17th April, and learning there
that further supplies were expected from Brest, he cruised down in
that direction, and then in the Soundings, in hopes that fortune
might favour him with a sight of the French convoy in crossing.
In more modern times, with ships that it was safe to trust close off
an enemy's port, Herbert would certainly have at once invested
Brest by sea, and prevented any extensive sailings therefrom, as
Cornwallis afterwards was able to do in 1805. But Herbert's
ships were not of a character to be trusted in the way Cornwallis
trusted his. As a consequence of this inability, 24 sail of the line, 2
frigates, and 6 fire-ships with 6,000 troops on board, all under the
command of Lieut. -General Chateaurenault sailed from Brest on
the 2Gth April (6th May), and reached the coast of Ireland unseen
by Herbert, anchoring in Bantry Bay, on the 29th April (9th

Herbert, disappointed at seeing nothing of the enemy, re-
turned to Ireland, and saw the French, counting with the
transports 44 sail, off Kinsale, apparently in fact, at the moment
of their arrival. He lost sight of them 'on their entry into
Bantry, and was misled by a report of their entry into Balti-

The French having anchored, proceeded at once with the land-
ing of the troops. This was nearly completed, when about
4 o'clock in the afternoon (30th April or 1st May) the French
counted 22 English line-of-battle ships and 6 small vessels
approaching against the easterly wind, which blew down the bay.J
Safe in his position, the French admiral went on with the dis-
embarkation, but next morning got under sail and brought Herbert
to action. The battle was indecisive. The English were in
decided inferiority of strength, but yet not so weak as to offer any
good prospect of complete defeat. The French admiral had
landed his troops and fulfilled his mission; there was no par-

* I do not gatlicr what number of men landed \Yith James at Kinsale. He ■(vas
conducted over by Commodore Gabarct, who left Cai^tain Duquesno 31osnier with
3 frigates at James' disposition. — Troude, toI. i., p. 190.

t Troude, vol. i., p. 190. The dates given do not accurately correspond with the
English ones, nautical and civil time very likely conflicting.

i Historians do not agree as to Herbert's numbers. Entick gives only IS


ticular advantage to be gained by following up the English.
Herbert, on his part, could not hope for decisive success against
the French, and nothing could now undo the work of the landing.
He made for his rendezvous, thirty miles west of Scilly, in hopes
of meeting reinforcements, but failing in this he returned to
Spithead, leaving the sea behind him free for the operations of the

We may observe of these transactions that the lessons they
convey are not very important. The French successes began
because the English were wanting in the naval force which was
necessary to prevent them. They continued because the landings
were on a practically friendly shore, as if, indeed, there had been
a transfer of troops from one port in France to another ; and
because marine architecture was not sufficiently advanced to make
the cutting of communications more than an operation of the most
uncertain character ; and, lastly, because the French were in such
superior force as really to defy the attacks of the English. Under
such conditions, the arguments put forward in the last chapter
almost guaranteed the French success.

Like arguments fully account for the French successful landing
in the Shannon in 1691 ; and the ineffectiveness of the blockade, or
watching of the French naval forces by way of cutting communi-
cations, is shown by the station taken up by the English fleet for
watching Brest. It was no nearer than 24 miles west of Ushant,
and this, although it must have been remembered that in 1689
de Tourville, favoured by the wind, had taken a very inferior
French fleet into Brest in full view of the greatly superior but
still powerless English fleet, powerless because it was unsafe to
maintain a position closer to the entrance of the port.*

I pass now to that prolific field for examples ot the kind
required, the West Indies.

King William " sent frequent orders and directions to the
governors of the several plantations in America to annoy the
French in those parts to the utmost of their power. And that
they might be the better able to do this, and be at the same time
secured from any insults from the French side, he had frequently
sent them small squadrons of men-of-war, to be always ready,
and at their direction, on such occasions as they should find
necessary to employ them in. . . . The French, however, were so
numerous in their colonies, and by the riches of their plantations

• Entick, p. 554. Troude, vol i., p. 195.





were so able to fit out privatcors to infest the western islands, that
a small force was not only insufficient to disturb them, but also
unable to protect the English settlements." '•'

As a consequence of these conditions, Captain Wright was placed,
towards the close of 1689, in command of a squadron, strong for
those days, and consisting of 1 third-rate, 7 fourth, and 2 fifth-
rates, with 2 fire-ships and a ketch. He was to assemble his ships
at Plymouth, there to embark a regiment of foot, and then to sail
for Barbados. His orders were to consult with the Governor of
Barbados as to securing the English plantations, and recovering
such as might have fallen into the hands of the French, but not to
remain longer there than \vas necessary to refresh his people, and
to take troops on board. He was then to make for such of the
Leeward Islands as, from intelligence of the enemy's proceedings,
might most promise success. At the Leeward Islands he was to
apply himself to General Codrington, and in all things relating to
the land service to act according to his directions and the opinion
of a council of war, eitlier for landing the regiment or attacking
the French colonies, recovering an}^ of our islands, or annoying the
enemy in any other manner. In enterprises at sea he was to act
as should be advised by the Governor and Councils of War, when
he had opportunity of consulting them, and, when it was necessary,
to spare as many seamen as he could with regard to the safety of
the ships ; and that the islands might not be exposed to insults, he
was forbid to send any ship from the squadron until the Governor
and Council were informed of it, and satisfied that the service did
not require their immediate attendance. t

Wright sailed from Plymouth on March 8th, 1690, with a large
convoy ; but before he arrived at Madeira, 5 of his war- ships and
some part of his convoy was missing. He was happy, however, in
finding them all at Madeira, and in reaching Carlisle Bay, in Bar-
bados, on the 11th May without casualty, but with his men, after
the too common fashion of those days, greatly reduced by weakness
and sickness. However, being landed and cared for on shore, they
speedily recovered and enabled him to put to sea on the 27th.
On the 30th he arrived at Antigua, and being sworn a member of
the Council presided over by General Codrington, proceeded to
consult over future proceedings.

It appears as if nothing was settled by the Council, but that the
-General and the Commodore themselves agreed on the outline of a

* Eiitick, p. 577. t ^'ji^l-


programme, in accordance with which the Commodore sailed on
June 3rd to Monserrat, where he was joined by the General with
additional trooi:)s, and together they sailed to Nevis. Here, on the
17th of June, they came to a determination to recover St. Chris-
tophers from the French. The condition of this island had been
that of a joint possession between English and French settlers. On
the occurrence of the war the French settlers had been able to over-
power the English, and now held the island.

The first operations in the attack were that Sir Timothy Thorn-
hill, with about 500 men, landed eastwards of " Frigate Bay."
He was opposed by the French, but twice defeated them and
marched towards Basse Terre, again defeating the enemy who
designed to bar his progrcas. The General then landed with 3,000
men and marched upon Basse Terre, while the fleet prepared to
co-operate by bombarding the town and forts. The fleet's inter-
ference was not, however, necessary, for the enemy quitted their
works and fled to the mountains. The army, continuing their
march, burnt all before them, and finally encamped about a mile
from the town. Fort Charles, however, was still held by the
enemy. The fleet moved to the Old Eoad and anchored, awaiting
the arrival of the army. On the 30th two guns were mounted in
battery to play on the fort, while the fleet assisted by bombarding
it from the sea, keeping under sail. On the 2nd of July the fort
still held out, and nine 12-pounders were landed and placed in
battery. This brought about the fall of the fort ; a flag of truce
ofl'ering to surrender on terms came out on the 12th, and on the
13th the place was given up.

On the 17th it was determined to attack St. Eustatia, and Sir
T. Thornhillwas landed there with his regiment without opposition,
and the same evening the fleet anchored there. The citadel fort,
however, though garrisoned by only eighty men, held out until
the 24th. It was the only citadel in the island, and when it fell
the conquest was complete.

After finishing these two conquests the fleet returned to Fort
Charles in St. Christophers to re-embark its guns and stores that
had been landed. Then a council of war decided that, owing to
the sickliness of the army, and the near approach of the hurricane
season, nothing more .could then be undertaken. The troops not
left in garrison in the conquered islands, were relanded at Antigua,
and the fleet returned to Barbados.

These commencements of a long series of captures and recap-
tures of islands in the West India group, are no doubt of a minor

These .
tures of isla.


character ; but I liave already observed that principles are some-
times mach more apparent in war when the surroundings are
simple, than when a vast entovrage distracts the attention.

In these two small conquests we have all the elements of
success and none of those of failure. There is, first, a fully
commanded sea, for there is nowhere any hint of even a small
French naval force. There is agreement between the admiral and
the general. There is sufficient military force. The work of
placing the army in a position to operate is done by the navy,
which supplies and recruits it. The army is the attacking force,
and where the navy is brought in, it is merely as an assistant to
the main attack. Its powers are measured against Fort Charles,
and it is found that eleven light guns mounted on shore, in the
hands of the army, but under the guarantee of a sea commanded
by the navy, are found of more account than all the broadsides
of the fleet.



The Conditions under which Attacks on TERrjTORY from the
Sea Succeed or Fail. — {Continued.)

Capture of Marie-Galante in March IGOl. — Landing at Guadaloupe. — Siege of the
forts at Basse Terre abandoned hastily in consequence of neighbourhood of French
squadron. — Contemjjorary errors as to Commodore Wright's strategic position. — Suc-
cessful attacks upon Nova Scotia from New England across an indifferent sea. — Failure
of attack on Quebec from delay and insuflicient force. — Impossibility of territorial
attacks over a doubtfully commanded sea, illustrated by the operations of Commodore
Wren and Count de Blanac in the West Indies in 1G92. — Failure of the attack on Mar-
tinique in 1G93 and its causes — Successes on West Coast of Africa and their causes. —
Remarkable parados as to Goree. — Failure of attack on Brest and its causes. — Russell's
operations in the Mediterranean in 1691-95. — The mere rumour -of a French fleet forces
abandonment of siege of Palamos. — Wilmot's operations in St. Domingo inlGDo. — Success
in spite of adverse conditions. — Various attacks on French Coast in lG'JI-95-96. —

The hurricane season being over, Commodore Wright returned
with his squadron to Antigua, with the view of arranging with
General Codrington for some further offensive operations against
the enemy. The naval and military commanders met at St.
Christopher's, and it was decided, in a Council of War, to make
an attempt to carry Guadaloupe. But this conclusion had no
sooner been arrived at than the Commodore received orders to
sail for England with part of his squadron. Before this could be
done, it was requisite to return to Barbados to obtain necessary
provisions and stores which were expected there from England ;
but, in any case, the attack on Guadaloupe must be abandoned.
Wright ^accordingly sailed from St. Christopher's on the 15lh
December 1690, and arrived at Carlisle Bay, Barbados, on the
30 th.

Here he began to disperse his squadron, presumably according
to orders ; two ships to Jamaica, to be stationed there, and another


to convoy the trade thence homewards. It was necessary' to
detach a fourth to collect the trade from Barbados and the Lee-
ward Islands, and these detachments left the Commodore with but
seven ships, and these in many ways defective.

Not many days had the Commodore lain at Barbados when
counter-orders reached him from home, and on the 20th January
1691 the Jersey, 48, arrived, convoying the desired victuallers and
store ships. This reversal of his orders naturally reproduced the
designs for offensive operations, and especially the idea of an attack
on Guadaloupe. In preparation for this, the Commodore took up
six merchant-men, and converted them into men-of-war.* With a
lleet thus made up to 14 sail, Wright sailed, on 12th February, for
the Leeward Islands to concert measures with General Codrington.
Some disagreements arising between the commanders led to delays,
but in the end it was determined to proceed against Guadaloupe,
and to make capture of its dependency, the island of Marie-Galante,
as a preliminary. t

The expedition started on the 21st March, and on the 28th 900
men being landed under Colonel Nott possessed themselves with-
out opposition of the town and fort, the authorities retiring intij»
the country, but soon surrendering themselves as prisoners.

At this point it is convenient to note that we have had to do with
a chain of successes, the capture of St. Christopher's, St. Eustasia,
and Marie-Galante, where in each case the landings were effected
without opposition, away from the cover of the forts, which all fell
to the land attack either at once or after resistance for a certain
time. The conditions of success were a sufficient military force,
covered, or ready to be covered, in its landing by a naval force, and
assisted where it was possible by the fire of the fleet in its subse-
quent operations. There was agreement between the commanders
by land and by sea, and the latter was absolutely unthreatened by
the interference of any other sea force.

Apparently there was no special design of holding Marie-Galante,
for we read of our men having, while awaiting the arrival of General

Online LibraryP. H. (Philip Howard) ColombNaval warfare, its ruling principles and practice historically treated → online text (page 28 of 57)